LARPers of Color Interview 1: Morgan Nuncio

This is a series of interviews we’ve done with LARPers of Color to understand the experiences, challenges, and successes people of color have within the LARP community. 


Keep: Thank you for your interest in doing this interview with me. I’ve been a big LARP geek since I was in High School, and I’m always excited to get feedback from others in the hobby.
Keep:-Can you tell us how you got into the hobby?:

Morgan: Soooooo, I was a junior in high school, and my best friend was a senior. She was dating an older guy for a couples by now, and he seemed really cool. One day she was like, “Hey, my boyfriend wants me to go with him to his friend’s house for this Vampire thing.  I don’t want to go alone. Will you come with me?” I said I would, and that Friday night we went with her boyfriend to this guy’s apartment, where her and I played “Ghouls” for this game called “Vampire: The Masquerade”. I really enjoyed the make-believe aspect because I used to do roleplaying for years online through AOL chatrooms and forums. This made it feel so much more real and something I can easily grasp. After that night  I was hooked!

by-night-studios-logo

For the New Vampire LARP rules

 

Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.):

After playing various types of games from parlor larps like Vampire: The Masquerade, to weekend long games like Dystopia Rising to even the U.S. blockbuster larp New World Magischola, I really enjoy the one-shot freeform games. Freeform games involve very little barrier-to-entry, meaning that costuming and cost of the game itself is very low or nonexistent, and the game last either 2-4 hours for that night, and that’s it. I don’t get trapped in the mindset of one particular character and I can much more throw myself into drama and chaos because I don’t have an emotional connection to the character like I would with my campaign characters.

dystopia-logo

What LARPs are you currently involved with?:

The only campaign larp I am involved with currently is Planetfall, which is a weekend-long scifi larp just outside of Austin, TX. And I try to participate in New World Magischola as much as I can, but it isn’t your traditional “campaign” game. Other than that, I am apart of a freeform group that gets together about once a month to play a variety of games, and even sometimes do larp jam sessions that we get together and write games and then playtest them.

How long have you been LARPing?:

I’ve been larping for about 11 years now.

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?:

When I was with Dystopia Rising, I was a Marshal for a few months, meaning that I was someone players could come to talk about rules, and when I was running NPC shifts, I would either hold the fort down at the desk or take NPCs out for various mods.

planetfall-logo

For Planetfall, I’m a Referee, which is pretty much like a Marshal for DR. However, we don’t really have NPC shifts for this game, people just volunteer to go away for a bit to be an NPC creature, since the playstyle of the game is very player vs survival/ environment, and focuses on roleplaying. Also, I’m the lead of the Social Team, meaning that a few days after games we try to get people together for “Pizza and Planetfall” for people just to hang out, and on the months between games we try to host another social event because we want to make it about the community aspect. I am also apart of the Inclusion Advisors, which means that myself and the other Advisors come together and discuss issues with the game itself, if there are any, when it comes to anything possibly appropriative or problematic, regarding people of color’s cultures and identities,  misogyny, or those within the LGBTQIA spectrum.

When it comes to freeform games, I slowly have begun to facilitate games. My first games I facilitated were apart of the #Feminism (an anthology full of nano-games regarding various aspects of the issues women face), and The Great After Party (a fun larp that lasts 3-4s that is a larp about the afterparty of a larp, full of your various larp tropes) by Erlend Eidsem Hansen and Frida Sofie Jansen at Living Games Conference back in May 2016 here in Austin, TX. I then ran Slayer Cake back in the beginning of October, which is written by Kat Jones and Evan Torner.  I am also slowly beginning to write my own larps as well in the past year, with my first game (with the help of Sarah Lynne Bowman) called ColorMatch[.]Com, which tackles the ideas of awkward first dates, finding what you are attracted to, and how to deal with fetishes. It’s a fun and short game that lasts only about an hour (if that). I am also working on various other larp projects, that I hope to debut sometime in 2017!

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?:

Mostly good, with some bad memories sprinkled through it. I’ve gotten into my fair share of heated discussions about issues in the larp community because the majority of the larp population is cisgendered, white men, who don’t understand the amount of privilege they hold, or care to acknowledge it. There was one fantasy larp down here in Texas that before the game was even open before their first game, I tried to voice my concerns to the game owner about the races he made, and the basis they come from. But what I said fell on deaf ears and a “well, maybe this game isn’t for you”.

 I have left games I have played in for years because of slowly being aware of the problematic issues that are within the world design, despite having tons of friends who run and play in the game.

But for the most part, especially those within the freeform community, have been a lot more aware and accepting, and a lot of them have the same concerns and thoughts. If they put something controversial in their games, it is there for a reason. It is for the reason for players to become aware, gain empathy of the situation, and learn what to do with things like it. That’s why I am SO THANKFUL for the #Feminism anthology, because there are tough and difficult ideas that we tackle in the nano-games, but they help so much more with awareness and understanding those mindsets. The one that really sticks out to me is a game called the “Grey Zone” by Siri Sandquist, where the players embody the emotions of a woman who is stuck in the grey zone between rape and consensual sex in a relationship.

feminism

 

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?:  

Listen and understand those who are marginalized and the issues they are seeing and facing. Ask how they, as game designer or other players, can help to make those who are marginalized more included. Active listening and engaging in a conversation, then acting upon that by changing the game, truly helps, because it makes you seem like you truly do care that people who are different than you enjoy the same nerdy hobby you do. A lot of the time when these issues are brought up, they are torn down by people not listening, disregarding the issues as “a cry for attention”, and being complete asshats.

Also, if there is opportunity for people of color (or anyone who is marginalized), to rise within the game staff, I want to tell who larpers of color to do it! I want to tell the women to do it! I want to tell the LGBTQIA folks to do it! Be the change we want to see in our world! Hell, I would love to see larpers of colors writing their own games, be it through normal North American style boffer campaign games, to blockbuster events, to freeform games! Representation matters, especially in a hobby that is so visual like larping is.

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?:

Yes, and it was within my first few years of larping too. I was playing Vampire: The Masquerade, and my character was raped by a Baali (a type of demon-worshipping vampires), to be impregnated with a demon baby she couldn’t get rid of. And the out of character I was given after the horrific and detailed event happened? “Sorry Morgan, you were the only female at game. It had to be you.” Like, seriously?! Just because I am a woman, I had to be the one targeted for rape, and not have the topic brought up to me beforehand. This memory has been something that has stewed in me for years, and I have written about it finally on my Facebook within the past year now that I am much more comfortable talking about these issues within larps. I really regret being apart of it, however I am also happy that it has happened because I can talk from experience and I have learned from the experience, and advocate against these things ever happening again, to anyone. I am all for scene negotiations, so that everyone consents to the outcome and what is involved.

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?:

To Vampire: The Masquerade, I hope that it does start adding in the ideas of scene negotiation,  and how for people to opt out of the scene. I know various types of V:TM games, like End of the Line and Convention of Thorns, really focus on the ideas of consent based play which I positively adore. I hope the run-of-the-mill World of Darkness games do follow the same light.

convention-of-thorns

For the larp I left, it is getting better with using safety mechanics and check- ins, however the world design is still heavily flawed. It has appropriated so much from other cultures, and the interpretation that player take on the game design is quite disheartening as well. It’s an inclusive community, meaning that it includes pretty much everyone, even those who are toxic or a missing/broken staircase.

For Planetfall, I wish we had more people of color playing. We have a good handful, but I wish there was a way for us to reach out to more people of color to play. I hope that in time we can get more people to join and help us diverse the game more, because I want the game world to really reflect 200 years into the future, where the world itself is one big, beautiful mixing pot.

One thing I would like to add to New World Magischola is games by me, instead of across the country! One can hope, right? Lol

And to the freeform community, I would love to see more larpers of colors become game designers and write games in this field. I am hoping that with freeform growing, that it attracts more game designers to it. The one thing  I would change is the availability of the games, because it seems like a lot of larpers do not know about the freeform larp community.

Know When To Say When – Is It Burnout or Bleed?

 

The misery of a year that is 2016 is drawing to a close, and as we all search the horizons of infinity for a glimmer of hope that 2017 will not takes its cues from its predecessor, it is a good time to take stock of our individual states of mind regarding our shared hobby.

2016-into-2017

 

This is an exercise in self-assessment and metacognition, a study in ourselves and our reactions. I recommend undertaking this effort in a comfortable and sober state of mind, possibly discussing it with your closest gaming associates or the people who can offer you an outside perspective.

For the purposes of this article, we will be using bleed in the pejorative sense; that is, the state of getting too wrapped up in/involved with in-character (IC) issues or problems, to the point where it is negatively affecting out-of-character (OOC) quality of life. Nordic-style or play-to-bleed is another cooking vessel of aquatic life forms entirely.

bleed

It’s a Thursday night. Your local once a month LARP is Saturday. What are you feeling?

A) Woohoo, game this weekend! I’m SO ready!
B) Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.
C)Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?
D) Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go.
E)Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

prisma-grigori

I’m ready!

If you answered A, please pass GO and collect your $200….unless you are ready to maliciously wreck the game for someone else. We’ll get to that in a moment.

If you answered B, you’re in the same boat as 90% of all the LARPers I have ever met. 5% of the remainder are super-organized and the other 5% will be panicking as they are 30 minutes late leaving for the game site.

If you answered C, you might be getting a little worn down. This might be because life is kicking your ass (and we all feel like we are wearing that Kick Me sign from time to time) or it might be because it is time to do a little self-diagnostic on your enjoyment/investment in the game.

If you answered D, you are definitely getting a little singed around the edges. Is something lacking in the game, the setting, the environment, or your gaming group, or are you/your character just in a neutral phase?

If you answered E, you may actually be burnt out or experiencing an undue amount of bleed.

A – Game is this weekend, yay!

Are you happy to be going, to be portraying your character and spending time doing something you love? If so, fantastic.

Are you happy to be going because you know you are going to be ruining someone else’s plots/plans…and you’re looking forward to enjoying their suffering?

The second answer is not categorically a negative one, believe it or not, as long as it is your character who is going to be enjoying wrecking another character. Part of the inclusivity of the hobby is being able to differentiate between player and character – but you knew that already, or you wouldn’t be here.

This is where you check your investment – does your entire life revolve around the game? Are you okay with that state of affairs if that is the case? Do you need to take a step back and reassess your investment and involvement? Are you living for the game, or is it a fun activity you enjoy with great enthusiasm? Have fun, but keep things in perspective.

B – Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.

jp

I’m ready!

As I said earlier, this is the area where 90% of the gamers of my acquaintance fall. The spectrum is basically spread out between “oh gods where is my everything” and “everything is here, in its proper place, repaired/polished/updated, and I’ve communicated with my DM/ST in triplicate.” If you are one of the people towards the neater/more organized end of the spectrum, please write a blog post and share your witchcraft with the rest of us.

You’re looking forward to the game, but you are keeping your other priorities in mind and in balance. This is a good place to be. Do you want to be more involved with the game? Do you see an opportunity for improvement, and want to help? This might be the time to reach out to your ST or DM and ask if they need any help, or let them know you are willing to volunteer.

C – Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?

This is the beginning of the singed edge. You may be going through a phase where life is interfering with your ability to game as much as you would like – and it happens to all of us. Maybe your work or class schedule changed, maybe you got involved in a new hobby that requires more time, or family/friends issues demanded priority over your gaming hobby. All of these are perfectly normal, perfectly respectable reasons to have slightly detached from the game, and a healthy, supportive gaming crew will work with you to make sure you can come back when circumstances change.

On the other hand, you might be in a low phase with your gaming experience, such as recovering from a loss of a character, or the completion of a huge storyline. This is either a recovery phase or a spot to take stock of your away-from-game commitments and responsibilities, to see if you need to reprioritize your involvement.

Have you reached a point where you are obsessing or brooding over your character’s frustrations and taking them on as your own? This is a potentially toxic level of bleed, but it can be handled if you recognize it early enough to take a step back and reevaluate your level of involvement with the character. It’s way, way too easy to fall into the trap of 24/7 role-play, especially in these days when it’s more work to get truly away from instant communication than most folks realize – and no one wants to snub their friends because they need a break from being in character all the time. Some people end up blurring the lines between player and character, and that can be incredibly awkward, frustrating, embarrassing, and frankly psychologically damaging – the bad kind of bleed.

Alternatively, this may be the spot you are in if you are in the process of returning to an ongoing game or campaign after taking a break, voluntary or otherwise. If that is the case, I recommend speaking to your DM or ST one-on-one and getting a general feel for the game state, to see how you can best reintegrate with the group. You can also look at this spot as a chance to debut a new character and start fresh.

D – Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go play.

work

I lied, I’m not ready.

If this is your feeling one random Thursday, you might just be having a bad week/month and don’t have the social energy to get into character and deal with plots and connivery and such. That’s cool – as a truly devoted introvert, I feel you. Stay home, cuddle your pets/sweetheart/favorite fuzzy blanket, watch TV or murder pixels or read a book. Do whatever makes you feel better.

If this happens two months in a row, it’s time to reassess your involvement in the game. Have you been doing too much role-playing? Especially in an Org game, or any other avenue that can lead to 24/7 play, it can begin to feel like an endless pressure to be in character all the time, and that’s exceptionally draining. Have you had an in-character crisis that has ended badly and you need to take some time to deal with the emotional fallout? That’s okay too. Are you frustrated because your character can’t seem to accomplish anything and you are beginning to feel like you are just going through the motions? This is a time for a calm and rational discussion with your DM or ST, which brings me to my next point.

This is going to be an unpopular statement, but hear me out – this can also be a sign that you are not a good fit for the game. There are times where personalities just do not mesh, or personal issues (and we’ve all got them, anyone who says otherwise is lying) prevent us from fully joining in with the game or group of people. Maybe, especially in a horror setting like Vampire or anything Lovecraftian, there are events in your own life that make the setting uncomfortable for you, despite your ardent desire to play. Maybe you are part of a group where the expectation of involvement/commitment/investment is WAY higher than you can afford, financially or temporally or emotionally.

social-contract

Make Friends, not Vassals

If you have made friends in your gaming hobby (and I sincerely hope you have!) see about hanging out with them away from a gaming setting, to just BS and be friends without character sheets or dice involved. Grab a beer or a coffee or see a movie or try a new restaurant. Be friends, not only friends-who-game-together. Maybe they have some insights that can rekindle your enjoyment in the game. Maybe you’ll discover that they also have a passion for watercolor paintings of bonsai or collecting esoteric cheeses – whatever your non-gaming passions are.

E – Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

You’re as burned as Anakin Skywalker after the duel on Mustafar.

This is where communication – and for the sake of clarity, I am going to reiterate that all of this is meant to be taken and performed out of character – is truly crucial. If literally everyone in your game is having a fantastic time, constantly and consistently, and you always feel like your own experience is lacking, TALK TO YOUR FELLOW PLAYERS AND YOUR DM/ST. Ask them, away from game and in a neutral setting, if there is something that needs to change about your playstyle, or if there is a fundamental misunderstanding about a key part of the game that you have missed, or if you joined the game with X expectations and are seeing Y results.

Part of being a responsible, emotionally mature, and informed player is realizing that sometimes the problems are not external, but internal. Sometimes, players just do not fit, and it’s unfair to the rest of the group to consistently be asking them to bend to your will and preferences. Want to do a fade-to-black (FTB) when a scene is getting too intense? I am 100% right there with you and will speak up for you if I see you getting uncomfortable. Invoke FTB every single time heightened emotions get involved? I will be less sympathetic.

What it comes down to is this – if you have left multiple game sessions with headaches and grumbles, truly having not enjoyed yourself, and you have reached out to try to make things better and not seen any improvement, maybe you need to reconsider if you are a good fit for the game. It is a sign of maturity and good self-awareness to realize when, despite best intentions, something is just not going to work. Like the old commercial said, “Know When To Say When.”

I will leave you all with this final thought –

We’re all part of this hobby, one giant dysfunctional family, and there’s always going to be situations that make us uncomfortable, people we don’t like, and constraints that we have to work around – be they psychological, financial, temporal, or otherwise – but we’re all here to play a game, and those challenges can actually strengthen us as people.

The biggest difference between our giant dysfunctional family and the other type is that you can always choose to walk away from this family if you realize it’s no longer the right one for you. We will miss you, but there’s always a seat at the table if you decide to come back.

2016 has been a bitch of a year. Let’s make 2017 our bitch.

In loving memory of Carrie Fisher, everyone’s favorite Princess,

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x) Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary 54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO's Documentary 'Bright Lights', USA - 10 Oct 2016

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x)
Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary
54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO’s Documentary ‘Bright Lights’, USA – 10 Oct 2016

May the Force be with you!

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Power and Identity: Mage: The Ascension

What does belonging look like when you have the power to change yourself and the world around you? What happens if you think you have the power to change the world, but instead are bound by the rules of those around you? As a mage, how do you define your identity in relation to your power?

Power and identity

Mage is an amazing game for the way it weaves mysticism and philosophy into a coherent universe. However, at the heart of that universe the very concept of what reality is, is in question. What are Mages? We know that they are human beings by their birth, but what is the Avatar? Is this a symbol of immanent godhood or an individual separation from the forces of the universe? Is the Avatar really a separate force or is it something all human beings possess but few harness the ability to connect with? What if Mages are the broken ones? Perhaps sleepers are connected to one universal avatar and it is through this force that they sustain and contain the consensus?

Delving into Mage is a journey into answering some of these questions. Your players may not directly choose to address them, but these questions (and others) are woven into the fabric of the game. Mage is a game about power, what one does with power and how one interacts with oneself and others when they have gained such power. As such, Mage is a game about power and identity.

What is power?

Power is the possession of control, authority, or influence over others. Mage is about power because it is about control. When you have the ability to control the forces of the universe to your advantage you clearly have power. However, this power is hardly omnipotent. Mages are constrained. First they are constrained by their Paradigm, the way they understand magic and the way they understand how they can work magic within the constraints of the world. To me, these are slightly separate things. The magus that believes the world is a sequence of controllable effects may believe she has to work differently with those effects than another.

For example, the Hermetic Mage believes that there are fundamental principles to the universe. Unlocking those principles requires using the correct rituals, the carefully crafted sigils, pacts with otherworldly beings, and perfect and repeatable procedures that have worked for centuries. That Mage has to be tutored. An apprentice has to learn from his superiors, it is a part of the way they see the world. To gain proficiency requires experience, repeated attempts to enact effects, and tutelage in proper procedures. Their paradigm requires they use these systems, because that is how they believe the world works.

A technocrat may have a similar view of the underlying principles of the world. It is knowable, repeatable, and quantifiable. If I mix these chemicals together, in the right way, then this specific effect will undoubtedly occur. However, the way mages are taught to interact with the world is different. Instead of using sigils and markings upon goatskin, they follow procedures based on bio-chemical theory. They use heat, and chemicals, and fine needles and lasers with the intent of bringing new creations into existence.

Power and Identity

 

What does this have to do with identity?

These two mages would refuse to see a common identity with one another. The technocrat is working with methods proven by both enlightened and non-enlightened science. However, in the world of Mage we know that the only reason non-enlightened science has been taken as fact is because the majority of people in the world have accepted it as such. In this way, the Technocracy has the upper hand regarding both identity and power. The majority of the population accepts their paradigm (at least on some level) and this ensures they are more apt to be considered a member of a given society.

The Mage that uses virgin made beeswax candles to summon demons is an outsider to the world around them. These activities may be TRUE to the Mage in question, but they are untrue to others. This separates the Tradition/Disparate Mage. This separation will drive a wedge between the Mage and the other people from their culture. A Chorister may be an exemplar of the Faith, but they do so by joining a Divine Song that is untouchable by the lay-person. This can breed hubris and jealousy. The challenge for the Mage is to balance their drive and ability to use their power and to avoid separating themselves deeply from the world around them. Yet, we see in most games that Mages are a step apart from their surroundings. They separate themselves into Cabals, and hide in Chantries, Churches, Laboratories, and other places detached from their fellow man.

How then do we create Mage characters that want to be a part of humanity? How do we construct worlds that encourage the Mage not to think of themselves as better or separate, but simply a different type of person than those around them? We have to give them attachments, connections, interlocking relationships that bind them to their friends, families, and communities.  Of course, as we know, this will bind the Mage. This will prevent them from rising to highest orders of power. By connecting themselves they limit themselves.

Identity

Do Mages Belong?

This is part of the drive to create the Traditions and the Technocratic Union and even the Disparate Alliance. These Mages want to belong with others that can support and empower the activities that they know they are capable of. However, as a group then they become distanced from the rest of humanity. They fail to see how they are just as intimately tied to the Earth and the cycle of life. By creating these communities Mages can reach for the stars. But, as they do they can also be scorched by the sun. This gives a young Mage the chance to challenge their elders. To drift skyward is to achieve greatness, but to build up the whole is to give everyone a chance to reach the sky.

Mages each have an element of their identity that separates them from those around them. This is a common issue for those with divergent interests, needs, or elements of their internal identity. In Mage, this identity separation has the consequence of power though. So it behooves the player and the storyteller to balance the hubris of power with the connections a person has to endure to be a member of society. At the same time, it is important to show that Mages feel different, not special, but divergent, radical, perhaps perverse.

Mages are liminal beings, living on the outskirts of society. They are the local wise witch that people would seek, but never welcome into the village. Even as these Mages live among humanity they are divergent, they are different, they are separate. How then does a Mage make themselves feel included? How do others remove them from the in-group and push them away from those more ‘normal’? These are design elements that are important to consider for the storyteller looking to tell deeper stories in the Mage universe.

 

This article was written by Josh (he/him/his) and should not be construed to be anything but his random musings.

Source: Bethesda

How Console Mods Help New People Enjoy Gaming

 

 Note: This article contains a picture of a doodle drawn spider from an old internet meme.

 

2016 was a big year in gaming for Bethesda fans. At E3 2015, they announced mod support for PS4 and Xbox One users for Fallout 4. Additionally when Skyrim Special Edition was annouced it also would come with mod support.  Finally, console gamers could have a taste of the modding fun! Mods are responsible for things like this My Little Pony dragon replacement mod for Skyrim, or this one that turns the trolls in game to internet trolls. Finally, us console gamers can be one step closer to the glorious “PC master race” that has eluded us! But console mod support has another unintended benefit: those with phobias and disabilities can now join in on the fun.

 

Anti Phobia Mods  

Source: Bethesda and yrock1234

Doodle spider added for effect. He’s sad!

There are many, many, phobias and many degrees to which those phobias affect those who suffer from them. Some people just need to kill the spiders they see, while others may be so paralyzed that they can’t do anything. It’s never fun to have a phobia accidentally triggered, even more so when you spent up to 60 dollars on it and can’t get a refund. Your copy of Fallout 4 or Skyrim may sit on the shelf or in your hard drive gathering dust because you didn’t realize one of your phobias was in the game.

 

Luckily, with the added mod support, many users like Joescreamatorium and yrock1234 have created texture replacement mods to replace things like bugs, zombie-like ghouls, crabs, and spiders with non-triggering textures for other creatures in the game. User yrock1234 even went so far as to replace the items dropped by the insects with same-effect items that fit with their new textures. The bears they replaced the spiders with (shown below) now drop beehives instead of spider web sacs that have the same in-game effects. Clever!

 

Cirosan’s Full Dialouge Interface Mod

Source: Bethesda and Cirosan

The Zhongwen language mod hard at work, making The Vault-tec Salesman no less annoying.

User Cirosan made Fallout 4 specifically more inclusive by adding a mod to ‘fix’ the dialogue system. In the unmodded version of Fallout 4, you don’t actually get to see what your character is going to say. Instead you see a rather general prompt, like THREATEN or ASK FOR CAPS. Sometimes you can be more or less of a jerk than you intend. With this mod the text your character speaks is clearly shown on screen for all four dialogue options, eliminating the guesswork. No wondering what sarcastic or emotional thing your character would say. Their mod is available in TEN languages at the time of writing, and they seem to be working on more.

 

This mod is amazingly inclusive, because it helps people who have trouble picking up on social cues, such as those on the Autism spectrum. I am not on the spectrum but I sometimes have trouble sometimes picking up on the cues. You see exactly what your character is going to say displayed on the screen, with an [emotion] tag associated. For those who have trouble processing spoken language, this mod is awesome. 

 

Source: Bethesda and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTgu3Svbo3g

The modder did not upload any images, so this is a screenshot taken from The Gameplay TV.

LGBTQ* Family Mod

On the LGBTQ* side of things, Skyrim doesn’t really need any modding.

For romances in Skyrim, as in Fallout 4, any eligible NPCs that can participate in the relationship/marriage system will marry your character regardless of gender. Neither game makes any big deal of your character choosing to be with male or female NPCs. You are also not ‘locked in’ to whichever type you choose and can change throughout the game. However in Fallout 4’s opening few minutes, your character is defined by experiences with their opposite-sexed partner and their child in a heteronormative fashion.

 

User Overseer777 has modded a way around this by changing all references made in-game to the spouse and changing the beginning to have your spouse’s in-game model match the sex of yours. Heteronormativity is a problem in gaming, with most games only option for opposite sex relationships. It is amazing that Fallout 4 and Skyrim are not heteronormative, and this mod helps seal the deal.

 

 

Source: Bethesda

OOOH YEAH!

Game mods can be sources of absolute hilarity, cool new content, all the cheats you could want, and more. Mods are also a great resource for making games much more friendly and inclusive for everyone. In the future, I hope that other developers begin to support modding on consoles. Modding is making gaming more accessible for everyone, and that’s a good thing. Besides, who doesn’t want to be able to turn their in game enemies into Macho Man Randy Savage? I know I do!

 


Anna uses she/her pronouns and is an avid LARPer and console gamer. On weekends when she isn’t a vampire she treks to the woods to beat up her friends with plumbing supplies.  Anna is a feminist, part of the LGBTQ* community, and is the proud owner of two loving cats. Anna is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

Beast the Primordial: Subverting the Monomyth

Beast the Primordial Logo

One of the most persistent tropes in modern speculative fiction is the Hero’s Journey, or the Monomyth.  The monomyth varies from telling to telling, and it can be found in a wide swath of modern media.  The basic manifestation of the Hero’s Journey takes a protagonist from “normal life” into a fantastic setting where they are faced with conflict, personal struggle, and ultimately, they achieve triumph/glory over a villainous foe.  In most tellings, a glorious return home completes the journey.

RPGs, from D&D to Exalted, use the Monomyth as their central narrative.  White Wolf didn’t start with a substantial investment in the monomyth, and arguably the World of Darkness, and even moreso the Chronicles of Darkness, often explicitly subvert or at least de-emphasize the monomyth.  It’s not hard to find player troupes that missed that memo and run heroic arcs with their Sabbat packs, Wraith circles, or throw themselves at the hero’s tale intrinsic to Changeling while ignoring the tragedy that’s clearly designed to subvert that narrative in the core text.

A Group of Japanese Yokai Feeding on a VictimFor all of the subversive ways the World and Chronicles of Darkness play with the Hero’s Journey, I’d never seen a game completely reject the validity of that story model until Beast the Primordial.

Beast devotes almost two and a half pages to the topic of how and why the game subverts/deconstructs the Monomyth. In Beast you play a monster of myth manifested within the soul of a human being.  Beasts are driven to feast on human terror in uniquely personal ways. The primary antagonists of the game are “Heroes” who are driven by the same supernatural cosmology that creates Beasts to seek and destroy them.

It’s easy at first glance to think that this game is just a dark twist on the narratives common to our modern media, but the game does something much more compelling as you work through it.  There is no monolithic enemy in Beast.  Hero’s arise as stand alone phenomenon, every bit the cosmological constant Beasts are, and the culture of the Children (Beasts’ name for themselves), is incredibly loose and comes with no great political force to oppose. There is no Sabbat, no Technocratic Union, no Hierarchy, or corrupt guilds to stand against. The game emphasizes family, and the connection Beasts have with other supernatural creatures in the Chronicles of Darkness.

The fundamental conflict of Beast centers on the complicated task of finding your place in a world when that world finds everything you represent abhorrent.  Heroes in Beast are clearly forged in the mold of the broken and corrupt heroes of Ancient Greece as opposed to the bright eyed perfection of classic Superman comics. They are deranged, driven, and while they may save a few humans from Beasts who have been pushed out of control by their hunger, it is a rare person who would say that is worth the collateral damage they cause.

Why is this  framing so powerful? It seems due to the fact that the game forces the player to truly grapple with the experience of being the “other”.  While that theme runs through many of White Wolf’s horror titles, Beast takes the metaphor further by casting the Beast’s greatest enemy as humanity itself.  Heroes are twisted, deranged, and supernaturally powerful, but they are fundamentally human.  It is the Beast who is not.

If you want to pick up Beast and give it a try one of the most important narrative considerations should be how comfortable you are with demonizing humanity.  There is a sidebar in the Heroes chapter that asks, “What about the Heroes that listen to reason?”.  The answer is that these heroes do exist, but they generally don’t hunt Beasts.  The book continually states that the Heroes that should appear in a Beast game are the narcissistic, driven, cruel ones.  I have seen a few people talk about having problems with this dynamic because it creates an unrelatable villain, and the book specifically states than Heroes should not be relatable enemies.  

Heroes, at their core, are quintessentially human. So shouldn’t they be relatable?  Modern storytelling has moved farther and farther in the direction of understandable antagonists, and messy flawed protagonists.  Beast seems like an obvious attempt to dive directly into that dynamic, but when you step back and look at the game as a model that inverts a classic storytelling trope the problems with this lens become apparent.

Beasts are not good guys.  You are not playing some gritty but relatable anti-hero.  Despite the few words in the opening about how Beasts were outcasts, and “different” before their Devouring, this game is not some glorified revenge fantasy.  The narrative that runs through the book emphasizes the constant struggle to keep existing while humanity continues to reject you, because you are fundamentally wrong.  If you view this game through a lens where humanity is intrinsically good then a lot of the intended themes quickly fall apart, and I’ve seen this specific logical crisis in a great deal of the negative responses to the game.  

A Beast's Horror Standing Behind ThemBefore playing this game you should really know your players, and you should spend some time making certain they are prepared to play true monsters in the night with none of the glorified romanticism that comes with games like Vampire or Changeling.  You’re not flipping the tables so you can play a Beast anti-hero. There is no good guy in this story.

Not every player will be able to get into this particular narrative headspace, and if even one or two players approaches this game with the wrong intent it could derail your whole chronicle.  That said, approaching the game with this tilted perspective opens up new story possibilities.  As a litmus test, if you dislike the writing of Thomas Ligotti due to the lack of a moral compass, even the inverted one present in more mainstream horror stories, this may not be the game for you. That particular form of nihilism is required to dive into the darker corners of Beast.

If the narrative darkness above sounds appealing there is still the question of game mechanics.  I have seen consistent complaints that Beast is overpowered compared to the other games in the Chronicles of Darkness.  After reading Beast I understand where that perception comes from.  While the “powers” that Beasts purchase aren’t necessarily overwhelming (though they are powerful and a lot of fun) Beasts come with a barrage of innate abilities you don’t have to pay for.  They have a special realm carved out of the Primordial Dream, they have the ability to transport there from a variety of places in the real world, they can buff other supernaturals they are allied with, and they automatically sense other supernaturals. There’s a system to create custom powers, which even though they must be purchased, is something you don’t often see, and these custom powers can become more unique when based off supernaturals a Beast is associated with.

Reading Beast, I felt like I was constantly stumbling over new powers, and it was a little overwhelming. However, I believe all of this power is important to further the fundamental themes of Beast.  Unlike Mages, Werewolves, or Vampires, who might have driving goals, or grand schemes which their powers help them fulfill, Beasts are just trying to survive. More importantly, their power is a trap.  

 

Hero Fighting a Dragon

Satiety, which is the Beast’s supernatural resource, is complicated and dangerous.  If you gorge yourself on the fear of your victims your inner Horror becomes fat and contented and you suffer penalties to your rolls.  If you are starving, then your powers are buffed by your deep hunger, but your Horror (your Beastly soul) can easily run out of control and you are left with no resource to buff your powers. You may think this is a simple matter of maintaining balance between these two states, but as a primordial being you reject such equilibrium and grow uniquely vulnerable if you maintain the stasis between these two extremes for long.

If we look back at this system, and think about the themes of the game, it becomes immediately apparent that a Beast’s power reinforces the anxiety of their existence.  Beasts have profound power, but every method of engaging with that power is toxic in a different way, and the more they leverage their supernatural strength, the more attention they draw from Heroes who want nothing more than to stand over their broken bodies.  Even Wraith, which plays with a similar dynamic by having very shallow experience costs, but pairing PCs with a dark shadow that will abuse their drive for power, still comes with a set of enemies players can secure satisfying victories against.

When a Beast defeats a Hero all they gain is a brief rest before the next Hero finds them.  As long as the Beast isn’t allowed to break out of that cycle, and Heroes are powerful enough to be a threat, no Beast can truly be overpowered, because their strength is a mockery more than an actual benefit.

Beast the Primordial is probably one of the most complex games in the of Darkness lines, both in terms of systems and due to its rejection of familiar narrative territory.  The lack of a unified enemy, and the fundamental rejection of the Hero’s Journey are daring moves that align Beast with experimental narrative ventures like Dread or Bluebeard’s Bride as opposed to other games using the storyteller system. Game mechanics are fairly complex (satiety is no blood pool), and to be honest, I have a hard time imagining keeping track of all the different things I would be capable of as a player without a substantial cheat sheet.  

Madness on the Outskirts

By Lydia Burris http://www.lydiaburris.com/

Several sections of Beast drive the inverted Monomyth narrative in less than nuanced ways.  This is most acute in areas that were re-written based on player critique during the kickstarter.  Several players felt the game was too dark, that Beasts had no reason to exist, and that the relationship Heroes had with the Integrity stat was messy in toxic ways.  To the dev’s credit they listened to the fans and made changes, but they did so very quickly and some of the text dealing with the themes introduced during the rewrite feel somewhat rushed.  This is especially obvious in the reminders that only Heroes with low integrity hunt Beasts, though the fact that the devs made certain to leave high integrity Heroes in the world is significant, and I hope we get to hear more about them in the upcoming Beast Conquering Heroes.

Ultimately, Beast takes some profound risks, and in doing so creates a dynamic new corner of horror role-playing than many of us never knew existed.  There are areas of the game that need some judicious application of the Golden Rule, such as the persistence of the “Beasts Teach Lessons” idea among the Children, without any coherent Beast society to perpetuate this culture.  That said, some of my favorite White Wolf games have tapped into incredibly messy, yet fascinating narratives because they were willing to take risks, and they also required fairly liberal use of the Golden Rule to manage their rough edges, so Beast is in good company.  Finding a large enough group of players ready to discard any heroic impulses and embrace the endlessly powerful anxiety of Beastly existence is a tall order (and may well resign Beast to my eternal bucket list alongside Promethean), but I do feel it’s a unique game that breaks new ground not just for the horror genre, but gaming more broadly and it’s well worth exploring.

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Into the Vault: Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars

From the Vault: Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars

torg

This week we’ll be going off on a bit of a tangent. I will be highlighting one of my favorite RPG’s from “back in the day.” This idea struck me as I saw both Jack Benners  Savage Worlds article and Jim’s Deadlands articles.  With the multitude of RPG’s out there, it is easy to lose track of what has come before. During the 1990’s a multitude of games would hit the markets. Some would be huge (Vampire: The Masqurade) some would cause controversy (Kult) and others would find a niche following that blossomed into cult status.
One of these later titles was TORG. TORG was originally an acronym for The Other Roleplaying Game. It was originally a tile used by the in-house development team. TORG was published by West End Games and came in a box set with the rulebook (pictured above), an Adventure book, and a Worldbook. As of 2016, Torg is under license to Ulisses Spiele. Plans for this new version of Torg will be released under the name Torg: Eternity. I am excited to see this updated both in rules and setting of the game.

 

The Setting

 

TORG is a pan-dimensional setting where different realities have invaded various parts of the earth. Per the cosmology of TORG, there are different cosm’s and each cosm is separate from every other cosm. That was until The Nameless One created different darkness devices. The Nameless One gave these darkness devices to different High Lords. Each High Lord has their own Darkness Device, each one different in design but all are Made of an obsidian material. The function of the Darkness Devices was to allow the High Lords to access the different Cosm’s and capture the possibility energy of each world.

When used to invade other cosms the darkness devices would open up gates leading back to the invading cosms home and begin to influence the invaded world changing it into a mirror of the invaders world. Thus a low tech, high magic cosm that was invading a high-tech non-magic cosm would find that their guns didn’t work most of the time, while the invaders had access to spells that worked, giving them an advantage.

 

Of the High Lords to get a Darkness Device one of the most prolific was The Gaunt Man. He is the High Lord of Orrosh, a Gothic horror realm with a Victorian setting. The Gaunt Man had successfully overtaken dozens of other cosm’s. Then he came across  Earth. What he found was that that Earth contained more potential than any other cosm he had previously discovered. He knew that he would not be able to take Earth alone. He set out to make deals with other High Lords and together they invaded parts of the Earth draining it of its possibility energy. The following are the starting realms for the game:

 

Core Earth– This is “our” Earth. This is the basic reality. Core Earth had slightly better tech than what one could find in the real world which also included access to faith based miracles and magic. To start, Core Earth had no High Lord, however the United States government was ruled  by a shadow cabal known as the Delphi Council.

 

Living Land – This was a Lost World style realm. Jungles, dinosaurs and low to nonexistent magic ruled this area. Centered in the United States on both the East and West Coasts, and a bit of Canada, this realm was ruled by humanoid dinosaurs. At the start of the game it was ruled by the HIgh Lord  Baruk Kaah. His darkness device was Rec Pakken, a large copse of trees.

 

Aysle – This was the “D&D” fantasy realm with high magic and low tech. It was centered in the United Kingdom. At the beginning of the game it is ruled by Uthorion in the body of Pella Ardinary. His darkness device is Drakacanus, a large crown

 

The Cyberpapacy – This was a cyberpunk setting messed with religion. Centered in France, it is ruled over by the Cyberpope Jean Malreaux I. Originally, a realm of jazzed up churches and religious artifacts it melded with a virtual reality on it’s way to invading earth giving way to the VR know as the Godnet.. Jean Malrequx’s darkness device is Ebenuscrux, a glowing cross both in reality and as a VX presence in the GodNet

 

Nippon Tech – This was an ultra-capitalist realm centered in Japan. Ruled over by 3327. This realm blended in so well at first that core Earthers didn’t realize what was going on until it was too late. 3327’s Darkness Device is Daikoku, a laptop computer

 

The New Nile Empire – This was the pulp hero realm ala Indiana Jones. Centered in Egypt it was ruled over by Dr. Mobius. Known for high tech “gadgets”. Dr. Mobius’s Darkness device is Kefertiri, a crocodile-headed idol.

 

Orrosh – This was the Victorian horrors setting. The name itself is an anagram of horrors. This realm was centered in Indonesia and ruled over by the Gaunt Man. The Guant Man’s Darkness device is Heketon, a stone heart

 

What made it different

Torg had a lot of things that set it apart in the over saturated market of the early 90’s. Among these were a ambitious living campaign, the multi-genre setting, and an innovative rules system including a drama deck of cards used in combat.

living-campaign

Living campaign

Torg attempted to do a living campaign right from the outset. Included in the original box set was an infiniverse guide explaining the state of the world and a form that players could mail into West End Games to let the publisher know how the players did. This in turn would influence the ongoing plot of the game world.

This was very ambitious in scope. So much so that while the Infiniverse campaign updates, one of which is pictured above were done throughout the run of the game. The idea of mailing in your updates fell off after about the first year.

what-made-it-different

The multi-genre setting

As covered above Torg had a very interesting setting that allowed for “cinematic style” games .Being able to play a magic slinger next to Doc Savage and do battle in a vampire crypt was great. No other game at the time (to my knowledge) was doing this.

 

Innovative rules system

Torg’s combat system was very interesting. For most conflict resolution you would roll a skill and look to hit a particular difficulty number. You would compare the number you rolled to a chart printed at the bottom of all character sheets. This number would be your bonus to your role. In addition to this if you rolled a 10 or a 20 you rolled again adding the rolls together. This is a mechanic that many games are implementing these days from AEG’s Legend of the Five Rings roll and keep system to Chronicles of Darkness exploding 10’s.

For me though, the best part of Torg was the drama deck. This was a deck of cards that were used in combat. It dictated many different things. From initiative to actions you could take, and even special plot points for characters to pursue.cards

This is an example of the a card one would get from the drama deck. The Orange top boarder was used for the GM. It told him what actions were available. The Grey side was for the PC to use. At the start of a session each player would get five cards. These could be used both in and out of combat.

The box set came with a set of drama cards and subsequent sourcebooks had more cards released with them. The drama deck assisted in bringing in the cinematic style of gaming Torg was aiming for.

 

Drawbacks

Torg did a lot right. The setting was compelling, the system as originally released was solid and different. The living campaign was ambitious and something not  done in pen and paper RPG’s at the time. That all being said, the game was not without its faults.

 

Chief among these were the lack amount of quality control with regards to the system. As the game line progressed core systems introduced in earlier books (including the original boxset) were thrown out and replaced with new rules sets and those in turn would be glossed over or simply ignored in other supplements.

 

The other two big issues Torg had to deal with were cross over ability between cosm’s and overtly anti-Japanese and anti-Catholic sentiments. The crossover ability stemmed from lack of support in published adventures and sourcebooks allowing for overtly customizable characters. For example, a pulp hero from The New Nile Empire that also had cypertech and knew how to cast magic would be left having to  house rule almost every aspect of their character.

 

The concern over anti-Japanese sentiment was raised due to the portrayal of Nippon Tech and the perceived view of Japan dominating U.S industries during the late 80’s and early 90’s. With the Cyberpapacy, perceptions were that the game had a anti-Catholic slant as well. West End Games did state that was not the intention behind either of these settings, however they continued to release product that many found distasteful.

 

In Conclusion

 

Torg was and is very entertaining. The overarching storyline still gives me ideas and I find myself wanting to try and run the entirety of the gameline. With the use of a very fun combat system in regards to both dice mechanics and the Drama deck the game moved very smoothly and upheld it’s cinematic style.

 

Even it’s faults from system, to tone to anti undertones of certain races or creeds can be seen as a product of the time they were a part of. This is not to say they are okay. Part of inclusiveness is the bad as well as the good. Torg’s cannon characters included a Priest that fought against the High Lords for example. The evolving rules perhaps could have been better suited to a full new edition. A 1.5 edition was released in the late 90’s though it didn’t make much impact nor did it fix many of the storyline issues.

 

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Deadline Express – Issue 4

Howdy, amigos!  Last month we talked about diversity and inclusion, so let’s talk about something a little lighter this month.  The world of Deadlands mirrors our own to a great degree, so you can choose to play any sort of figure you can think of from the western genre, from the hard-bitten cowhand to the grizzled bounty hunter, the soiled dove, to the native scout.  What Deadlands has that the real world lacks (and most other Western settings lack) is a panoply of supernatural origins for your character to choose from, if you wish.

deadlands-banner

 

Now, you’ll have to spend some of your hard-earned building points (and later, bounty points) to shore up your supernatural mojo, but if you’re willing to sacrifice some of your skill points now, it can pay great dividends later on!  Let’s take a look at some of the different supernatural types you can be.

 

Harrowed

Harrowed make the list early because it’s a potential everyone has!  If you croak in the Weird West, there is always a small chance you’ll return from the dead with a manitou riding around in your skull, animating your rotting hide for the rest of eternity.  Although this particular career option comes with a great deal of power, including resistance to fear and injury, improved healing, and a bevy of supernatural powers related to the grave, it also comes with a huge downside: the demonic passenger you carry poses a constant danger to everyone around you, and it’s only a matter of time until it lashes out at someone you care about.

 

Hucksterhoyles-rules

In Deadlands, a European wizard long ago learned the secrets of conjuring manitous to compel them to perform services in the form of magical spells. To keep himself and his students safe, he created and taught methods of controlling these fiendish spirits through mental battles envisioned as games of skill.  Eventually he settled on cards as the most efficient method, and encoded his teachings in a book: Hoyle’s Book of Games (1st Edition only).  Practitioners of this art decode the mysterious secrets in Hoyle’s teachings to cast arcane spells (known as hexes).

 

Mechanically, the player draws a number of playing cards, and the quality of the poker hand they are able to form from them determines the quality of the hex.  Although they tend to be risk-takers (they are, after all, quite literally gambling with their lives every time they cast a hex) these spell slingers are one of the most iconic parts of the setting.

 

Blessed

When the floodgates of the Reckoning opened, it wasn’t just the practitioners of dark magic who saw their power wax.  Holy men and women of all manner of faiths suddenly found their gods much more receptive to their supplications, and the mystical power of myth suddenly at their fingertips once more.

 

The books contain rules for Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon blessed, as well as Jewish, Muslim, Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian practitioners as well. Although they do have a code of conduct they are expected to live by (and may risk loss of their powers if they violate it), Blessed have fewer skills and attributes which their powers are dependent on, allowing them to be more focused in their character building.

 

Mad Scientist

If you love steampunk style and have dreams of Gatling gun vengeance, then mad science may be in your future!  The discovery of the mineral known as ghost rock has led to a wellspring of ‘New Science,’ the catchall term for the bizarre and terrify experiments now running amok through the Weird West.  Although mad science requires a fair amount of resources and a posse willing to accommodate the downtime you’ll need, the only limit to what you can build is your imagination; from lightning guns to rocket trains. The best part is that you don’t even need to hide what you do–this isn’t magic, after all, it’s science!

 

Shamans

The Blessed weren’t the only people who got their mojo back after the Great Quake.  The Native American tribes that thought spirits had long since gone quiet found their own rituals garnering tangible reactions from the beings they entreated.  The Shaman can call on the spirits to do their bidding, wielding powers that other magics pale in comparison.

 

Shamanic favors are potent, some more powerful even than the miracles of the Blessed or the hexes of the Hucksters.  However, to harness this magic you must first entreat the spirits with rituals, which can take anywhere from a couple of actions to several days! Still, when the spirits answer, you can empower your warriors, raise the dead, or have the very earth itself obey your command.

 

But that’s not all!  Although these are the primary Arcane Backgrounds you can take, there are a few others, which aren’t always appropriate for every campaign, but might fit in extremely well depending on your location.

greatmaze_zps6e6dff28

The Great Maze

Martial Artist

Out in the Great Maze, an unprecedented number of immigrants from the East have come to seek their own version of the American Dream.  The notion of tyrannical rule through force of arms is not new to them, and some of them have learned ways to defend themselves even when unarmed.  Some of them have even learned to tap their own spiritual essence to achieve feats which could be called magical by the unenlightened.  If you are playing in the Great Maze, or anywhere the warlord Kang’s Iron Dragon railroad is located, a Martial Artist can give you a character with one foot in the supernatural side of the line and the other firmly planted in butt kickin’ town.

 

Voodoo

With one of the six major players in the Great Rail Wars firmly rooted in New Orleans, it’s only natural that a little bit of voodoo comes into play somehow!  Far from a unified front, the practitioners of this unique religion have (like so many others) found the voices of their own spirits, the loa, easier to hear since the Reckoning.  Although they primarily fight amongst themselves, as Bayou Vermillion’s dark influence spreads westward, so does the stories of the hexes and conjures his men employ, as well as the magic of the voodoo adherents who oppose his black magic.  If you’re playing in the Deep South, or anywhere Bayou Vermillion has great influence (for good or for ill), then a voodoo practitioner can provide a character somewhere between a Shaman and a Blessed.

 

Mestizo

In the southern part of the Maze, Reverend Grimme sits on his throne as the king of his starving domain of Lost Angels.  With the means to control both food and water for his population, he has also muscled his way into controlling the flow of Ghost Rock in his area, and intends to hold his power as long as possible.  But a few people oppose him, living in his metropolis in secret.  The Mestizos are an obscure religious group, their faith a curious mix of Catholicism and native beliefs.  If you want to play a member of a persecuted religious minority using their powers in service of resistance to the rule of a tyrant, then this is your stop, amigo!  Just make sure your Marshal’s okay with it–the Mestizo doesn’t really fit in very well outside of Lost Angels.

 

Blood Magic

The vile, inbred Whately clan has more than a few secrets, but none more potent than this, their mastery of a form of sorcery called Blood Magic.  Blood Magicians can call down unique curses utilizing the power of their own blood, which is infused with fiendish energy from centuries-old pacts with dark powers.  Unfortunately, Blood Magic is unique to the Whately family–you can’t learn it without the Whately Blood edge, which carries with it the risk of insanity and deformity, as well as a familial connection to one of the most insidious packs of villains in the setting.

 

Pick and Choose

Although there are a few Arcane Backgrounds that aren’t compatible, a great number of them are!  There’s nothing stopping your Shaman from learning the way of the Martial Artist, for instance.  Many’s the hero who walks one of these paths and ends up Harrowed before their story is finished.  A few don’t work together, (a Shaman couldn’t become a Catholic Blessed, for example, nor a Mad Scientist) but as long as you clear them with your Marshal, you should be able to spread yourself as thin as you like.  You won’t achieve the total mastery of someone who focused in their chosen field, but the panoply of tricks you’ll have up your sleeve will make even the most veteran hero jealous!

 

There are a few dozen sourcebooks for Deadlands classic, so if I missed your favorite Arcane Background, I apologize!  Feel free to shoot me a scathing message telling me where the hog ate the cabbage, amigo.  Until next time!

 

Jim Stearns is a one-armed gunslinger from the swamps of Southern Illinois.  In addition to the Ravenloft Corner column at High Level Games, he writes for the Black Library. His mad scribblings can also frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World and Fitting In, both by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him @jcstearnswriter on Twitter.

Deadline Express 3- Diversity in the Weird West

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Howdy partner!

 

Last time we spoke, we talked a little about some of the rules mechanics that are unique to Deadlands.  This time I thought we’d talk about something a little less crunchy but no less important: diversity.

 

Diversity is an important consideration in the gaming hobby.  In the context of a historical (or alternative history) roleplaying game, diversity is an especially important topic.  Fantasy systems can always be tweaked or altered to allow more stage time for groups of people that don’t feel like they’re being represented in the setting, but historical settings can be understandably off-putting for people who would be oppressed or second-class citizens within that setting.

 

Deadlands is especially sensitive to this, probably because it has to be.  It’s set in a historical period when cisgendered heterosexual white male protestants hold all the cards.  In real history, it was a time when racist and sexist oppression was at an all-time high, and when LGBTQIA individuals didn’t even dare to speak out. Fortunately, the game goes a long way to making gamers of all types feel that their personal identifiers are welcome at the table and in the setting.

 

Race

Deadlands is set in a world where the Civil War is still raging.  (Okay, more grinding on in an oppressive stalemate than raging.) I’m sure the big question on your mind is ‘what about the hot, spicy racism?’ and gratefully, Deadlands does a lot to avoid it.

 

In the world of Deadlands, shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, the government of the Confederacy decides to free their slaves as well.  The logic being: economic freedom from the Union, with reduced production, is better than suffering military defeat. They abolish the practice on their own in order to bolster the ranks of their own troops and encourage Northern abolitionists to stop supporting the war effort.  (As a side note, the figure who gets this accomplished in Deadlands actually did suggest this in real life, as I understand, so this isn’t just plucked from thin air.)

 

Racism isn’t just against black people, though, I hear you say.  And you’re right.  There is a huge Chinese immigrant population and influence in the Maze, with immigrant figures holding a bit more influence than they may have in real life.  In the west coastal region, Chinese heroes can operate on the same footing as white heroes.

 

Near the southern border, there are a number of calamities.  Mexico is under French occupation and threatened by the undead, so there is a little less tension between northern gringos and natives than there would be otherwise.  (The French occupation is also based on a historical takeover that failed–it just happened to have succeeded in Deadlands.)

 

The bottom line is that the Reckoning (the return of the supernatural to the world) has made the things that go bump in the night, as well as their greater influence, like the War, a larger conflict than interracial tensions, allowing marshals and players to discard racial conflicts that don’t serve their stories.

weird-west

Gender

Much like issues of race, the omnipresence of the Civil War and the dangers of the Reckoning have made many gender inequality issues moot.  Back east, there is still a divide, but even that’s reduced.  One of the six great rail barons is a woman, as well as being one of the most successful industrialists in the setting.  From Granny Smith (an arms manufacturer for the Mormon state) to Katie Karl (one of the leaders of the Texas Rangers), there are women in power prominently placed throughout the setting.  Even one of the template characters is a female sheriff, so the game clearly encourages a greater degree of gender parity than was actually present in in 1877.

 

Native Americans

Of all the marginalized groups, Native Americans probably have the strongest position in Deadlands.  The Reckoning occurs before the end of the Indian Wars, and the continuation of the Civil War (diverting the resources of the USA and CSA away from the west) as well as the return of tribal magics level the playing field tremendously.  Not one, but two coalitions of Native Americans have managed to carve out independent territories for themselves in Deadlands.  Far from being oppressed and relegated to reservations, the tribal coalitions are an independent force to be reckoned with, and potent allies in the struggle against the forces of evil.

six-guns-and-sorceryDiversity

LGBTQIA

There aren’t as many gay and trans characters in the setting as one might like, it’s true.  However, the same point that gets hammered over and over, that the conflicts with other national groups and the fight against the monsters are more important than squabbles within our own communities, is one that could be realistically applied to the LGBTQIA community as well.  You could easily slide a gay character into a game without breaking any suspension of disbelief.  When you’re in the trenches, being shot at with gatling guns, or fighting off vampires, you don’t care about the sexual preference of the person next to you; only that they have your back.

 

Religion

The fact that all religions can call on divine abilities to protect the innocent from the depredations of the wicked goes a long way to make them more accepted.  Although protestant Christians remain the dominant religion, the fact that Catholics can also call down real, honest miracles does a great deal to lessen tensions.  Those are far from the only options, of course: Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, and Buddhism are all given positions of respect and prestige.

 

Edges/Hindrances

Of course, discrimination still exists.  The level of discrimination in your game, however, should be something that marshal and player are comfortable with.  To that end, your Edges and Hindrances are big hints as to your preferences.  If you play a Chinese character but don’t take the Ferner Hindrance, you’re sending a big signal to your marshal that you’re not interested in doing stories about racial prejudice.  If you play a female character with the Law Man or Rank edge, you tell your marshal that you’re interested in being in a position of authority, not being treated like a delicate belle. It’s an extra level of communication both parties should be conscious of. *Editor Note, we encourage having some frank, straightforward conversations about these elements with players prior to introducing them. Take subtle clues, but don’t be afraid to ask directly.

 

Conclusion

If you’re a cisgendered heterosexual white male protestant, it can sometimes be easy to overlook a lack of diversity in games.  Especially in historic games, where it’s tempting to resist doing a little extra work for the sake of inclusion by using ‘that’s how it was back then’ as a shield.

 

Gaming has done a lot to shed the image of the community as nothing but a bunch of socially awkward white male nerds.  Our community includes men and women, nerds and athletes, people of color, all nationalities, faiths, and positions on the gender spectrum.  It’s important that we make our games as welcoming as our communities should be.  Fortunately for us, Deadlands gives us the tools and the setting to make what might otherwise be an awkward situation comfortable and inclusive for everyone.

 

Jim Stearns is a one-armed gunslinger from the swamps of Southern Illinois.  In addition to the Ravenloft Corner column at High Level Games, his mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World and Fitting In, both by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him @jcstearnswriter on Twitter.

The Tradition of Magic in RPGs – AD&D

summoning
So now, after looking at Chainmail, we’ll take a look at 1st edition AD&D. Here, we see a departure from the simple and basic rules found in Chainmail and white box D&D. Here we see a detailed magic system with a more extensive spell list.

1st edition AD&D had a detailed and odd way of providing spells. This is because the rules printed in the Player’s Handbook only give part of the rules for granting spells. The other half is listed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Nowadays this is a moot point, as you can get both books at the same time. However, when they were first released the Player’s Handbook was put out a year before the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

In fact, the first AD&D supplement put out was the Monster Manual which was released in 1977, with the Player’s Handbook following in 1978, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide finally in 1979.

So, as mentioned in the PH (Player’s Handbook) a magic users ability to learn a spell was based on their Intelligence (INT) score. Your INT would determine your % chance to learn a spell.My group? We would roll on the list and any spells in which we passed the percentage to learn roll we would mark those in our books as spells we HAD THE POSSIBILITY of learning, if we came upon them during the course of the game.

Thus, we would go down the list and roll to see what spells we knew. If we didn’t pass any rolls we didn’t get to know that spell. As we understood the rules, our minds could not comprehend the spell or grasp the intricacies of a spell. Once in awhile a DM would be “nice” and allow us to roll through again if we didn’t meet the minimum spell number for our level.

The real issue I had was that last column above “Number of knowable spells per level Maximum”. I didn’t like this. Why? Many times I would be rolling through the spell list in the PH and pass the % Chance to know Any given spell and hit my max number of spells knowable before I had finished the list. NO FAIR!

From a DM standpoint the book didn’t say you had to roll them in any order and I allowed my players to roll them in any order they wished. The rules stated that the Maximum knowable was because your brain couldn’t comprehend any further information. Given that magic users had to memorize the spells and copy them into their spell books, they could only keep so much in their heads.

All of this is great. One thing is never stated though: How many spells a magic user ACTUALLY STARTS WITH AT CHARACTER CREATION! Yep, again. All that rolling for spells above is just to determine if you have the ability to learn the spell, should the opportunity arise. It doesn’t tell you the number of spells you would get. That information was in the DMG (Dungeon Master’s Guide).

The DMG mentioned the spells a magic user would know. Four, is the number of spells a 1st level magic user knew. The first spell it stated that all magic users would know was Read Magic, as how else would you be able to cast any other spells? All other spells fell into three categories Offensive,Defensive, and Miscellaneous. A player would roll a d10 and determine randomly what spell they would know from each of these lists.

That’s how you learned the spells, and of course, you would have to keep the needed components on hand and take the time to memorize each spell first thing each day. There is a sense of nostalgia looking at how this system ran. It is neat seeing how much has changed.

skeletor-magic-missle

Wonderful Skeletor, we want you to cast that spell. To cast a spell you memorize the spell and use one of your spell slots. Use up the spell slot and that’s it. Well, from a mechanics standpoint you have to wait the amount of time it takes to cast the spell and if there is a saving throw the defender gets to roll.

Really though that is it. It’s not all that bad. Pretty straightforward really. So pro’s and con’s?

Pros:

Easy, once you fully understand it.

Like most versions of D&D (except 4th) magic casting has changed very little, so you know one edition, you know them all.

Cons

The clunkiness of having the spell system separated between the PH and the DMG can cause confusion.

The spell list, while not exhaustive, is not really what I would consider “open”

So, in conclusion, AD&D did a good job of having a robust magic system that did just as it was intended. The Spells were vast, and covered many different styles. Though, for me, the constant spell lists and noting the particulars did get tedious.

For what it set out to do (and still does) the D&D magic system does it very well. There is a reason why so many spells in the game are household names. It is a robust system even with it’s flaws.

Many other games would emulate the groundwork laid by D&D. Even in the early years, games such as Tunnels & Trolls, Bunnies & Burrows, Traveller, and Runequest would expand the ways in which magic, in RPG’s, was used.

Next week we will look at Runequest, 2nd Ed. AD&D, and the Traveler black book. Moving from the high fantasy that dominated the hobby in the early days, sci-fi finally had it’s say in the medium, and it was very different, to say the least.

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

The Tradition of Magic in RPGs – Chainmail

strange
No, don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this article, however, with the release of Doctor Strange it got me thinking about the ways that magic is portrayed in our hobby and what I like and don’t like about different magic systems. What makes a good magic system vs a bad magic system? Even more so, what is the evolution of magic in the hobby? There has been a lot of growth from the early days of 1st ed AD&D to modern day games like Savage Worlds or FATE.

For myself, I have always gravitated to the magic user in RPG’s that offer them as a class option. For me, it was a mix of describing the awesome effects of the spells and also the system that was used for magic.  Some systems are very complex and involved with rigid lists and names and others, very loose allowing for endless customization with an easy open system that ended up being complex far beyond what I thought was possible.

Looking back on my years of games, there are a few standout games that really made me rethink what can be done with magic. For me, these games are in order: AD&D 1st and 2nd Edition, Shadowrun, Ars Magica, TORG, Mage: The Ascension 20th anniversary edition, and FATE Core. This is the order I was introduced to each of these systems, not the order they were released. Nonetheless, each of these systems showed a new and exciting way to implement magic. AD&D of course, was the granddaddy of RPGs, as it came out of miniature wargaming, specifically Chainmail, which itself included two Wizard spells in it’s second edition.

chainmailIn fact, Dungeons and Dragons started as a Chainmail variant. I found it very interesting that Chainmail, and D&D by extension, were heavily influenced by Tolkien with such a rigid rules set that didn’t leave much room for variation. In my youth, I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, including The Hobbit, every year from 5th grade until I graduated high school. With such a love for Mr. Tolkien’s work AD&D was a big deal and I found myself wanting to devour any book I could get my hands on.

Of course, while I read these books hungrily in my early days, it was not much of a game when we did play.

GM: What do you want to do?

Me: I want to go to the bar!

GM: Okay you’re at the bar.

Me: I ask the bartender for a quest.

GM: Okay, he asks you to find a mystical magical sword.

Me: I accept

GM: Okay you are now at the cave that has the sword.

Me: I go in.

Etc, etc, etc.

All this talk of magic, and after looking back through my books, got me really looking at how magic is used in RPG’s. This in turn led to many hours spent reading through different editions of many books and really taking a hard non-biased look at their different magic systems. So, over the next few weeks, I will look at different game lines and look at how magic was used. Both good and bad points of the magic systems will be listed and an overall history will be given of the systems covered.

white-bookWe shall start AT THE BEGINING with Chainmail. Where there other RPG’s before this? Why, yes. However, most of these were Fantasy Wargames and not commercially available. From an “RPG” viewpoint, Chainmail is the first, and even then, most would point to White box D&D as the first true pen and paper RPG, as we know them today.

Without Chainmail there would be no D&D. Back in 1968, Gary Gygax saw a game of Siege of Bodenburg being played at the very first Lake Geneva Wargaming Convention (Gencon). Siege of Bodenburg didn’t include any magic, however, it revolved around two players using 40mm Elastolin miniatures played on a 6×6 board. Gygax inquired about purchasing these figures. This led to many different rules revisions over the next few years. The chief among them being the new ruleset that Gygax and his partner Jeff Perren created and published in their Castles and Crusades Society fanzine The Doomsday book.

All of the work that was done fine tuning that ruleset brought Gygax and Perren to the attention of Guidon Games. Guidon hired him to create a ruleset for a new gameline they wanted to release.

One of these three games would become Chainmail.

As noted above, Chainmail included two magic spells in its second edition, which was released in 1972. It also covered magic armor as well. The rules for the game were straight forward overall, just rolling and consulting charts to see what hit and what didn’t. Not complicated at all, really.

Humble beginnings indeed.

Pros and cons of Chainmail:

Pros

It helped to give us D&D

Simple system (if you can call it a magic system)

Cons

Non really. I mean it’s not a “magic system” per say.

It was in 1972 however, that TSR product designation 2002 was released and gaming was never truly the same ever again. D&D had arrived. D&D’s magic system draws heavily from The Dying Earth series of stories by author Jack Vance, in particular, the notion that magic users could only memorize so many spells per day and once they used them, they forgot them. In fact, the style of magic is referred to as Vancian magic. Looking at the Wiktionary definition of the word it fits perfectly with what the D&D magic system does:

Vancian magic:men-and-magic

Noun:

  1. A form of magic based on the existence of spells that must be prepared in advance, for specific purposes, and that can be used a finite number of times.

White box D&D (as it is called nowadays) was a collection of three books:

Men and Magic

The first of the three books included in the white box are where magic spells are listed. The classes, all three of them;  Cleric, Fighting-men, and Magic User.The races listed were Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halflings. Only three alignments were given: law, chaos, and neutrality. While the magic user does have magic spells they were handled very differently. Magic users max out at 6th level while Cleric’s max at 5th.  Spells used a spell slot and the defender got to make a saving throw. Overall, the game took it on faith that the player owned a copy of Chainmail and used those rules. However, an “alternate system “was given in the appendix of the book for dealing with combat, roll a 20 sided die and compare to a list of AC values. If it hit, then roll 1d6 for damage. That’s it!

monsters-and-treasureMonsters and Treasure

The second book covers well…monsters and treasure. Of note for this blog, are the magic items. The Flaming sword and Brazier of Controlling Fire Elementals were introduced in this supplement. Dragons were here, as well with alignments as we know them today.

The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures

Lastly, this book was divided into two parts. The first one provided details on designing dungeons and even included the first published dungeon with multiple levels and wandering monsters. The other half of the book detailed running games outside of the dungeon and even suggested the use of Avalon Hills Outdoor Survival game from 1972.

Together these three books made up the white box and the first iteration of D&D. There were further supplements, notably Blackmoore and the original Greyhawk setting. These introduced further information. Like in Greyhawk, supplement spells for 8th and 9th level for Magic Users and  6th and 7th level spells for Clerics were introduced.

Pictured below are the spells for both Magic Users and Clerics.

spells-1

spells-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the table above, one can see that early lists included a lot of staple spells that have become  household names that everyone knows today. An interesting point to note, there are rules regarding “evil” clerics. I like that, even in these early days, there was this sense of good vs. evil built into the game world. Knowing that some of your spells would not work due to a “balance” of a “force” makes me happy.

underworld

Pros

A bit on the complex side however the system’s staples were here.

Tables? It has tables. Lots and lots of them!

Cons

Spell lists. Customizing was not something that was done during this edition.

Tables? It has tables. Lots and lots of them!

Next, we’ll look at First Edition AD&D

 

 

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.